Orthodontic Rubber Bands 101: Your Questions Answered

If you’re new to orthodontic rubber bands (also known as orthodontic elastics), I’m sure you have a lot of questions. Your orthodontist may have shown you how to place elastics and talked about how long to wear them and how often to change them with fresh ones.

But what about all the other questions you might have about your braces treatment? Like why in the world do rubber bands hurt so much, and what to do if they break, or if a hook breaks? Learn all this, and more, in this article. We’ve got you covered answering the most frequent questions patients often have but are afraid to ask.

1. Can You Eat Or Drink With Rubber Bands On?

YES. You can eat small pieces of food with rubber bands on your braces, and you can drink too. The chewing motion is actually beneficial because it applies even more pressure to your teeth via elastics. That’s why it’s acceptable to chew gum when wearing elastics.

For larger meals, though, most people find that they’re more comfortable taking their elastics off. If you open your mouth too wide to bite into a burger, your elastic could snap, or you could even swallow it. 

With braces, it’s best to cut your food into small pieces anyway, so you can eat with your rubber bands on. If you need to wear elastics while eating, I suggest you stick with certain foods that are easier to chew.

Drinking is also not a problem with elastics, although I’d steer clear of fizzy or acidic drinks that can demineralize your teeth.

To decrease the risk of cavities, I strongly advise you to limit the number of meals and avoid snacking all day. It’s best to create a habit: rubber bands off – eat -brush teeth – rubber bands back on. Do this 3-4 times per day and you’re safely within the range of wearing your elastics 22 hrs/day.

2. Do You Have To Sleep With Rubber Bands In Your Mouth?

YES. How else would you get to 22hrs/day without getting some shut-eye? Sleeping with elastics on your braces is perfectly safe, and you won’t even notice them.

In some cases, your orthodontist may advise you to only wear rubber bands at night, or 12 hrs/day, but the most common scenario is where you wear them full time.

3. What Happens If You Swallow An Elastic?

NOTHING. Rubber bands are small, soft, and inert. They won’t get digested and pass right through. If you feel like your elastic is stuck to your throat, wash it down with water, and go to the emergency room if it’s still in there.

Some patients have small babies eager to swallow any rubber band lying around. If your baby is happy and acting normal, don’t worry too much. Call your pediatrician’s office and tell them what happened.

Unless you have a latex allergy, which would have been obvious by now since braces ligatures also have latex in them, you shouldn’t be too worried. Plus, it might happen again at some point during your orthodontic treatment.

4. Do You Need A Mirror To Put Elastics On?

NO. Some patients are quite skilled and can put their rubber bands on in their sleep. But even if you’ve reached an impressive speed when putting your elastics on, I urge you to take a second look in the mirror.

Braces are small items that sit close together, and their hooks are even smaller. It’s easy to get elastic placement wrong, which can have a negative impact on your orthodontic treatment. Even if it seems like you’re in the right area, when it comes to orthodontic rubber bands, you have to be precise.

I get it, putting elastics on can make you feel self-conscious if you’re at school or at work, but going to the bathroom is much safer, and you need to brush your teeth after a meal anyway. If you’re unable to do this, then at least carry a small mirror or check your braces in your phone selfie camera.

P.S. If you’re having difficulties placing your elastics and a mirror isn’t cutting it, I strongly suggest you use an orthodontic elastic placer.

5. Can You Kiss With Rubber Bands On?

YES. You can absolutely kiss with rubber bands on. You don’t risk snapping them off, swallowing them, or cutting your cheek. That being said, you’re probably aware that not all kisses are created equal.

So, for a small kiss or a peck, I’d leave elastics on. But if you’re planning a make-out session, you might want to take them off. Don’t let it be an excuse for not wearing your elastics, though!

6. What Happens If You Run Out Of Orthodontic Bands?

It’s simple, call your orthodontist’s office. If you run out regularly, your doctor might ask you some questions – like how have you been using them, have you been changing them too often, or even doubling down on elastics?

Your orthodontist will give you just enough bands to last you through the month until it’s time for your next visit. So if you’re regularly running out, you must be doing something different than your orthodontist’s instructions.

Most patients run out of elastics because they change them with fresh ones too often or they lose them. Both are easy to correct.

Can You Buy Orthodontic Bands?

Yes, you can look up your exact size, force, and brand of elastics and order them off Amazon or eBay. I strongly advise you against this, though. Your orthodontist is the one guiding your treatment, because elastics in themselves, with no supervision, can do more harm than good.

7. Why Do Your Orthodontic Bands Keep Breaking?

Your elastics can literally break, or snap off the hook or aligner notch. Either way, it’s very annoying. There are three reasons for this:

  • Your elastics’ diameter may be too small. This happens especially when you have to wear 1/8″ crisscross elastics to correct a crossbite. Those tiny things are challenging to put on, especially on your upper jaw, and often snap or break on some patients.
  • Your notch or braces hook may be too small. If there isn’t enough material for it to hook on, and the elastic is also on the smaller side, it could snap off or break. Your orthodontist can tie Kobayashi hooks on your braces to give you more anchorage.
  • Your rubber bands are low quality. Sometimes, you just get a bad batch and the latex isn’t sturdy enough, so it breaks after 5-10 minutes. Or your elastics are latex free – those are more fragile sometimes. If this keeps happening to you, ask for a different brand of elastics.

8. Why Do Rubber Bands Hurt So Much?

Remember when you first got braces? Your teeth probably hurt for two weeks and more until the pain finally started to subside.

Rubber bands are like braces on steroids. They apply additional pressure to a single tooth, in an effort to move groups of teeth. Those teeth that are used as hooks take a real beating. It will take about 7-8 days before they’re accustomed to the constant tension and they become loose enough.

Not to worry, after 1-2 weeks of constant wear, pain shouldn’t be an issue. Until then, some acetaminophen will do the trick.

9. Can You Yawn With Orthodontic Elastics?

Now this is an interesting question. Some patients said that rubber bands take the fun out of yawning since they don’t allow their mouth to stretch freely all the way.

If you’re worried you’ll snap your elastics if you yawn, know that they’re stretchy enough to withstand yawning and more. When you’re putting fresh elastics on, you may be stretching them much further than you would when yawning. It’s not like you can do anything about it, yawning is a reflex.

10. What To Do If A Hook That You Used With Your Elastics Breaks?

Breaking brackets is never fun, and if you see your hook moving back and forth on the archwire, you should stop wearing your elastics and you should set up an appointment with your orthodontist.

I go in-depth about types of hooks and what to do if they break in this article. What’s important is that you’re not tempted to place elastics in the same area, or worse, just wear them on one side.

Wearing elastics on only one side of the mouth will negatively impact your bite and the health of your temporomandibular joint.

11. What Happens If You Only Your Rubber Bands At Night?

Only wearing your elastics at night will not move your teeth. It might maintain your results, but unless your orthodontist instructs you otherwise, you should wear your elastics 22 out of 24 hours.

Applying your rubber bands at night only to take them off again for the next 14 hours will create a back-and-forth motion that’s not healthy for your teeth and periodontium.

12. Can You Only Change Your Elastics Once Or Twice A Day?

In an exceptional situation, if you’re trying to save up on elastics and make them last longer, you could only change your elastics twice a day. However, this will significantly slow down treatment and prolong your time in elastics.

Some patients don’t like changing their elastics too often because they find it difficult, but with a little practice, it will get easier. Ideally, you need to change your elastics 3-4 times per day, after every main meal and right before bed.

13. What Happens If You Don’t Wear Your Elastics For 2 Days?

You may be sick and tired of wearing your rubber bands, or maybe you have a weekend planned where you want to take a break and not wear your elastics. 2 days will not make a huge difference in your treatment plan, but you need to keep in mind that not wearing your elastics for 2 days will:

  • allow your teeth to move back and lose 3-4 days of progress;
  • make your teeth more painful when you start wearing your elastics again.

Hopefully, I’ve cleared up some things for you, but if you still have questions about rubber bands, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth and gums during orthodontic treatment is crucial. That’s why I’ve put together a list of orthodontist-recommended tools that will make caring for your braces a breeze:

  • An awesome mid-range electric toothbrush. Rotating electric brushes are much more effective, in my opinion, than sonic ones. You can keep your teeth white by using whitening replacement heads.
  • A countertop water flosser to blast out food debris between teeth. I know handheld models are tempting, but you’ll need a lot of water. You can almost replace flossing with this and your gums will be healthier.
  • Braces accessories to get into all the nooks and crannies: straight or angled interdental brushes, floss threaders, orthodontic wax or silicone. For pain management, have gel ice packs handy, Orajel, and Mouth Magic (a cool soothing solution for mouth sores).
  • For clear aligner patients, a tool like PUL helps both remove and seat your aligner or retainer. Don’t forget to use a cleaning product like crystals to keep your trays fresh and hygienic.

Looking for advice, a second opinion & support on your braces journey? Join the Facebook group!

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